The Sjoerd Marijne Interview: The Indian Women’s hockey team coach who led the women in blue towards their remarkable performance in Tokyo Olympics 2020 has come a long way. Talking about his team, he says that these women are fighters. Even as he chooses to step down now, he has done his job – instilling confidence and reviving their own belief.
And so even though the women’s hockey team did not win a medal, they sure won millions of hearts. Coach Sjoerd Marijne caught up with SheThePeople to talk about their performance and how the journey has been so far since the past four and a half years. He says the best thing about team India is “their fighting spirit.”
How important has this performance been for the team?
Sjoerd: I think very important to make a huge impact in India of course and I think it makes the girls very proud and the country very proud. And this has never been done before so I think it is a great thing, a nice thing what has happened at the Olympics.”
What did you think worked for the women this time? What was the big piece in their spirit?
Sjoerd: I must say that the fitness levels have increased very much. It worked really well for the girls. They were able to show their best in circumstances even though it was very very hot. So this was the first thing. The other thing that worked for them is ‘staying in the moment’¬† and not being busy thinking what happens if we don’t win this match, what happens if I don’t score a goal, what happens… Like they got rid of the ‘what if’ thinking. And focussed on what they could control. That really helped in the tournament.
What do you think worked on the most in terms of their mental game?
Sjoerd: It starts with ‘belief’. Believe that you really can achieve something like if you go to the Olympics and you don’t believe you can win a medal, then you don’t have to go. And I think that worked really well for the girls. From the first moment, they said that we want to go for that medal and there was a belief that we could win, also from the big countries and coming really close, I think that also happened.
In terms of the kind of performance and training that they put in, now you’ve been the coach for some time, do you think we’re finally reaching a global level of training our athletes and players?
Sjoerd: Yeah absolutely like we’re ending with the best four countries. Everybody could see like they are by far the best team in the world. So the team really has made steps and now they are in the top 8 of the world. If we still would be with the old ranking system, I think we would be in the top 5 in the world.
You have often credited with the turning around of the performance after many decades. Do you think that the latest crop of girls are now ready for the next big leap in their game and what would that be?
Sjoerd: The next big thing would be of course in the World Cup but a lot of things must happen like they did for the men’s team. They started many years ago with the Hockey India League, participating on the Pro League, organising tournaments in India. These same things have to happen for the girls and if these things then they can come and they also can go for high position but this is very very important. And I hope this will happen because everybody can see what the girls did without these things and what they are capable of and yeah they inspire new young girls. And when young girls are coming into the team, they know the culture is not as it was. It has changed.
Your view on Rani Rampal’s leadership through the Olympics and what it’ll be like here on?
Sjoerd: The thing is like I personally don’t like to talk about only one player. The thing is everybody has to take leadership, everybody has to take ownership. And, Rani did really well but Rani should also focus on herself. That is also a kind of leadership that she can show inside the pitch. Savita is working with young girls like Rani and tries to help them.
When we do a meeting, Rani always does a second meeting but she does it with more girls – they all take that leadership role because yeah the captain can’t do it alone. And the more leaders and more ownership in the team, the more responsibility they take, the more the whole team will pick it up.
The kind of spotlight Vandana Kataria and Gurjeet got this time goes to show that Indian players are now getting spotlight globally. And it’s not just one but across the board. What do you like the most about the performance of some of these key players who did a lot to push the game ahead?
Sjoerd: I think everybody pushes themselves and what I like the most is the fighting spirit. The fighting spirit of the whole team has been great. There were times when were down 2-0 but we fought back. We never gave up. And every day the last four and a half years, they gave their best and that is what I like the most and I think this is something what they have created now and made the people of India proud.
What would you expect from corporations and organisations to do when the girls get back in India? How can more be done for women’s hockey?
Sjoerd: Yeah, I hope they will embrace and just put them in a position. They really also can change things but sponsorships would help and they just that they get more in the spotlight because that is what they deserve that everybody sees okay. These women can fight, they’re resilient and it gives joy to watch them.
Why are you leaving them now?
Sjoerd: The reason is because I have four children and a wife and I just want to see my family. And this is the only reason. I see also few things and people ask me to stay and ask the government please do everything what is necessary but there is nothing more important than family, no money, or whatever. And for me, this was always the plan. Being four and a half years in India and after the Olympics, I would leave. And that is the only reason.”
Your one big headline from this Olympics?
We didn’t win a medal but what it created in India, I don’t think it has happened before.